Boston Globe and Snapchat

Two seemingly unrelated stories over the summer of 2013 should seriously wake you up.

At face value, it wouldn’t appear these events are connected but pause and think about them and realize the implications.

The Boston Globe was founded in 1872. It is the dominant newspaper in America’s oldest city with nearly 3x the circulation of its rival. There are apartments in Manhattan for more than the price Mr. Henry recently acquired The Globe for from the New York Times. Think about this – it was owned by the New York Times, arguably the single most well known newspaper company in the world, and it couldn’t survive. Oh, and they paid over a billion dollars for it in 1993.

snapchatThe Snapchat ghost is laughing at you.

Meanwhile, Snapchat started as a student project at Stanford at the end of 2011. Its creators, Spiegel and Murray, were basically dismissed by even fellow students for the notion of a social network based on impermanent pictures.

(Background on Snapchat: users take pictures that last for between one and ten seconds on the recipient’s phone).

The average user of Snapchat is 13 – 23 years old and the majority of “Snaps” are selfies, where the user takes a picture of him or herself. It’s no secret that a healthy percentage of “Snaps” are not safe for work, as a subtle description. Within one year, one billion photos had been shared with twenty million photos shared per day. While Snapchat doesn’t reveal its user base, its users are now sharing 200 million pictures a day. Until early 2013, Snapchat was still operating out of its founder’s father’s house and had less than ten employees, including the founders.

The amount of money Snapchat just raised is more than an almost 150 year old newspaper in one of America’s biggest cities with over 25 Pulitzer prizes just sold for. Let that sink in.

What are the implications?

  • Content: People demand content – and a lot of it. Some newspapers have done a great job of moving to mobile and creating a wider array of content (albeit a bit belatedly). There’s a time and a place for all content – even ephemeral and seemingly nonsensical. Certainly there is a difference between reading a random blog and the Wall Street Journal, but the “content kings” of the media no longer control all that is seen and heard.
  • Consumption: The ways in which people consume content will continue to evolve. It’s no longer enough to just have mobile and a Twitter/Facebook account if you want to connect with everyone. You can choose not to engage with new platforms (whether it’s Pinterest, Snapchat, or whatever’s next), but you may do so at your detriment.
  • Value: Gary Vaynerchuk wrote an amazing piece for Medium last week entitled “Value is Subjective. Even When It’s a Little Ghost.” His point was that you may think Snapchat is stupid (disclosure: I do), but there is a huge number of people who find value in it, so don’t write it off. You can examine it and choose to pursue other routes as the best way to move forward with your time, money, or business, but think back to how many people said Facebook and Twitter were stupid. Early adopters of these new technologies and networks, like Gary himself, have created enormous advantages for themselves.
  • Opportunity: Lastly, take heart in knowing that an idea dismissed by many at its inception is now worth almost a billion dollars (relevant context restated: Snapchat is now almost worth what the NYT paid for the Boston Globe in 1993). Get off your butt and go create something, anything. You have no excuse not to. While I don’t buy in to the inflated valuations of Instagram and Snapchat – and I recommend you not chase them or bank on them as your only option – shouldn’t it prove to you that an incredibly simple idea, even one that seems foolish, could be something huge?

On that final note, something to remember about the difference between an idea and execution.

strikingtruths_go-do-it

My First Fifty CrossFit Days…

… I’m never going back.

Friends had been telling me for years to do CrossFit. I’ve been a “GloboGym” guy since high school. I’ve always enjoyed weightlifting and hated cardio. I figured I knew what I was doing after more than a decade in the gym – why did I need to do CrossFit? Weightlifting defined a big part of who I was. I spent an hour or two five to six days a week every morning before dawn. I didn’t need someone to tell me how to work out. To be clear, I did more than crunches, curls, and bench press and even competed in an amateur bodybuilding competition in college. I also looked at the guys who were at the elite CrossFit level and thought to myself “There’s no way they do a five minute workout and achieve that level of fitness.” After staring, admittedly curiously, from the outside in, my friend and business partner Web Smith finally got me to give it a go.

There was no question I was going to CrossFit Dallas Central to give it a shot. Widely viewed as the best CrossFit box in Dallas (“box” = gym), I’d even heard it’s one of the best in the US.  One of my first reactions was a bit of sticker shock at the price. Gold’s Gym was $50 a month. I was looking at $200 a month to join CrossFit. I had enough people at this point in my life telling me I had to try it that it was more than worth a one month trial. Having started a clothing company last year, something else I’ve learned first hand is that quality is never cheap. It it’s a great product or service, it’s going to be worth the cost. Our “chasing cheap” culture has distorted reality to an unhealthy level with everyone expecting things to cost less than it takes to actually deliver that product or service. There exists an almost automatic assumption that there should always be a discount, and if it costs more than something in the same product category, it’s too expensive (even if they aren’t really comparable). Past the signup, I got my world rocked.

I can’t remember my first week of workouts in terms of specific movements/time, but I can remember being humbled as never before. There will always be someone faster or stronger (unless you are Rich Froning), so it wasn’t that someone finished something faster or with more weight… It was that I felt like the workout had obliterated me. No exaggeration. I remember collapsing on the floor thinking “But wait! I’m FIT!”. The important distinction with CrossFit is that you may be able to run a marathon, but you can’t lift much weight at all. You may be incredibly strong, but if you have to row a 1000 meters, you may actually pass out. CrossFit is all about exactly what their slogan says “Forging Real Fitness”.

Perhaps even more amazing than this realization that I was nowhere near as “fit” as I thought I was, was the bonding experience that took place almost instantly. From the coaches to those getting obliterated with me, the sense of community is phenomenal. Perhaps shared suffering (and of course triumph at the completion of each WOD) is a stronger bonding tool than I had ever realized.

This false sense from those who have not ever even tried CrossFit that it’s a bunch of workout lunatics/muscle heads couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve seen the fittest people right next to those who are one hundred pounds overweight, all doing their best to improve their own fitness level while encouraging each other. From teenagers looking to get ready for soccer tryouts to men and women old enough to be grandparents, there is absolutely something for everyone. You do not need to get fit in order to show up on your first day. The coaches will tailor workouts to your level and push you, in a healthy way, for consistent improvement.

So about my “fitness” level… I rarely combined aerobic activity into workouts. I’d never done an overhead squat. I’d play with my phone or have long conversations with friends at the gym. I’d gotten really good at specific movements and while I was “strong”, I now understand I’ve just scratched the surface of true fitness.

Can’t wait for what’s next. Thanks Web and Lindsey Smith for opening my eyes. Thanks to the CrossFit community for welcoming me and making me want so much more for myself.

The Cost of Cheap

Some may have heard the news that a recent building collapse in Bangladesh killed over 1,100 people. Most have not. Disasters happen all over the world, all the time. What makes this different? It was a garment factory for some of the worlds biggest (cheap) brands with deplorable conditions. Ann Zimmerman and Neil Shah wrote a great piece in the Wall Street Journal this weekend entitled American Taste for Cheap Clothes Fed Bangladesh Boom. It is a must read.

Building Collapse

Photo Credit: Andrew Biraj, Reuters

My wife and I walked through the mall this weekend past an H&M store where they advertised a bikini for $4.95 (modeled by Beyonce). $4.95. Let that sink in. If you’ve ever dug into the economics of products like clothing, it means the cost of goods on that bikini is somewhere between $0.50 and $1.50, depending on a number of factors, that include the fabric and the labor itself. That does not include paying Beyonce. People have quickly become familiar with China making just about everything (and typically of rather poor quality), but what people are less familiar with is that even China is becoming “too expensive” in terms of labor. Companies are shifting their manufacturing from China to even lower cost manufacturing countries like Bangladesh, with devastating consequences. There aren’t even basic safeguards for people working in these countries. Over 1,100 people died in this building collapse. In buildings like this and others that have experienced deadly accidents in Bangladesh, clothes are made for H&M, Zara, J.C. Penney, United Colors of Benetton, Wal-Mart, and other major companies. H&M and Zara have made a name for themselves with “fast fashion”, taking inspiration from couture fashion, cutting down the production to shelf time, using dirt cheap labor, and bargain basement pricing. The consequences of these business practices are great profits for these companies along with significant human suffering.  It is absolutely true that offshore production can give people in developing countries a chance at a brighter future with jobs, if done responsibly. This is anything but responsible.

The only way things will change is if people in America and Europe (primarily) start to vote with their dollars and demand change. United Colors of Benetton champions itself as a company of social responsibility. It denied having any connection to the factory that collapsed, until pictures emerged of its clothing amidst the rubble.

Things have to change. I believe we’re doing our part at Mizzen+Main with our commitment to American manufacturing. While people don’t typically make the choice between item A and item B based on where it is made, seeing American made products, or responsibly made products from overseas, helps encourage people to keep in mind the consequences of their purchases.

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, is probably the best example of what he champions: conscious capitalism. At Inc’s 2013 GrowCo conference, he said America is in “disintegration mode,” and unless businesses, government, and the media behave more ethically and more cooperatively, high unemployment levels and economic decline will continue. Perhaps most importantly, he said “the virtues that made us a great nation are beginning to disappear. Capitalism needs to renew itself, and we need new ethcial foundation for business.”

There is a cost to cheap. A very, very high cost. I encourage you to vote with your dollars and effect positive change. Pay attention to who you buy from and do business with. You’ll be surprised.